Eighteen years ago, everything changed for us. That was the day we finally met Christopher, aka Doodlebug, aka Doodle McScootle, aka Scooter, aka CB, aka Mister Christer (those last two words should rhyme, by the way), after a long, nine-month wait.
He was the first of our two sons, and he came to us that morning at 11:11 — the wishing time, which was apt.
He had to be forcibly removed from his comfort zone (via C-Section after a full night of difficult labor for Kim), and he didn’t look at all happy about that. The nurse was hurrying him into the next room to weigh him and assess his Apgar scores, but she stopped for a moment to show him to us. And he showed his displeasure with a big scowl.
Later that day, the visits started, and every person who encountered Christopher awake had the same reaction — they talked about the wonder of his eyes. To me, they were big and blue and beautiful. But other people — anyone more familiar with newborns than I was at that time — commented on how alert he seemed to be. I thought newborns couldn’t see very far, but we heard it from enough non-biased people to believe it. “Wow, he seems so alert! He’s really taking it all in!”
I don’t know what those people saw, but in retrospect, I know they were right. Because Christopher took it all in from that moment on, and still is doing so. He’s always been a silent, often inscrutable, observer, with a mind like a sponge. After he learned to read — right around the time he turned two — there was no stopping him. Everything he could get his hands on, from books to DVDs to computers, was fair game in his quest for knowledge. He’d often get lost in his thoughts, even with the book or electronic device no longer in his hands. That’s when he’d be either watching for more input, or reflecting on what he’d most recently learned.
This cost him — and us — a bit of a reputation loss, I’m afraid. People would assume he’s rude. Scold him for reading an encyclopedia after finishing a classroom assignment early. Insist he should be throwing a football instead of studying. Tell him to smile more. Correct him when he didn’t respond enthusiastically enough to their greeting. Those people were, of course, full of crap.
There were many times in his youth when he actually thought he’d replied to someone, but hadn’t. He has overcome that, and manages not to get that lost in his thoughts now. It’s been wonderful to watch him grow in that regard, without having to diminish his focus or concentration. But it was never out of a disregard for others.
He still has a big scowl when he’s displeased, and that can still happen when he’s forced out of his comfort zone. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. Show me anyone who doesn’t react similarly.
Although he outwardly leans toward stoicism, his heart is as much of a sponge as his brain. He has great compassion for all things living (although he does not suffer fools lightly). One of our cats has adopted him as its own, and we fear that cat might be lost when “his boy” leaves for college in two months. His concern for the planet and its inhabitants — especially the marginalized — makes me as proud as I am of his intelligence. What he learns, he uses for good.
I was excited when I realized his 18th birthday would occur on Father’s Day this year; it meant we could celebrate together as he took his first step into adulthood. His younger brother Matthew had a big event today, too — he was confirmed by our visiting Bishop. Of course, that meant Christopher and I would have to sacrifice a morning of leisurely celebration in order to sit through a longer-than-usual service, but we lived to tell the tale.
Matthew had to get to church early this morning to prepare, so Kim and I rushed everyone out of the house. We gave Christopher a big “Happy Birthday!” as we did so, and received his quiet, non-committal response. It seemed as if that head-versus-heart struggle came out with his head the winner this time. Was he really not excited about his 18th birthday?
That’s okay, it’s his life. He’s eschewed other celebrations in the past, and it’s not for us to force him to turn away from intellectualism to half-heartedly embrace something sentimental that doesn’t inspire him. He knows what’s at stake in every situation, and it’s up to him to assign value to one side or the other.
We dropped Matthew off, then went to Panera for a quick breakfast. Christopher chatted with us as he ate his bagel, so I knew he wasn’t upset about something. He just wasn’t interested in his birthday — or so I thought.
We went on to church, standing and kneeling at all the appropriate places and getting the usual Episcopalian cardio work-out. At one point as we were standing, Christopher tapped me on the shoulder. I looked over, and he was holding up his phone. I couldn’t imagine what text message he might have gotten that he wanted to share with me, but I looked — and saw there was no text window nor app open. He was simply showing me the home screen, with the time displayed.
Now it was my turn to scowl — although that was from confusion, not displeasure. Why did he want me to see the time? It was 11:11, which meant we probably still had…
Hold on. 11:11? Yes, 11:11! It’s been part of my and Kim’s lore for 18 years now, because our first son was born at the wishing time. We might have mentioned it to him once or twice in his youth, but surely it hadn’t even registered with someone who doesn’t believe in statements like, “11:11; make a wish!”
I looked up from the phone and saw that yes, it had registered with our little intellectual. He was grinning sheepishly at me, as if to say, Okay, now I’m 18.
I leaned in, put my arm around him, and whispered, “Happy Birthday, Doodlebug.” He snickered, not having heard that nickname probably since he was five. Then he turned to Kim and showed her the phone. I watched the same realization dawn on her face, before she leaned in to hug him and whisper something similar into his opposite ear.
I turned back toward the officiant, my eyes brimming a little. Our alert little baby was now an adult. And even while wrapped up in his own constantly churning thoughts, he’d heard the story of his birth time, and he’d held onto it.
This man still has the ability to surprise me, and I hope he always does.
Happy 18th Birthday, Doodlebug.